Officer John M. Smith - domestic violence
Charges latest blow to cops' image
From Flint Journal files
Oct. 4, 2005
FLINT, Michigan - Two Flint police officers accused of stealing money and drugs are the latest but not the first to tarnish the department's reputation.
In recent years, Flint officers have been accused of soliciting sex on the job, stealing a video game and beating a handcuffed man. They represent a small but all-too-visible part of the police force.
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Policing the police Recent incidents involving Flint police officers:
• LAWRENCE E. THOMAS: Put on 2 years' probation in December after pleading no contest to charges he packaged marijuana at his home and sold $100 worth to an informant. Also acquitted of assaulting a boy who threw a snowball at his car while off-duty, but the city paid $30,000 to the family of two boys involved in the incident.• JEFF HAZZARD: Resigned earlier this year. The city paid $175,000 in settlements related to an incident in which men accused Hazzard and other officers of brutalizing suspects.
• TONY M. JONES: Sentenced to federal prison last year after pleading guilty to gambling conspiracy in a case that included allegations he used his job to protect illegal card and dice games. He was fired by the department.
• ANTONIO BARBER: An undercover narcotics officer, he was fired last year for allegedly stealing a Madden 2005 video game during a raid on a house.
• SCOTT BAKER: In August, pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge for allegedly propositioning two women for sex while on duty in November 2003. If he stays out of trouble, the case will be dismissed in February, leaving his criminal record clean. As part of the deal, he resigned and will not seek reinstatement.
• JOHN M. SMITH: Pleaded guilty in September 2003 to disorderly behavior and assault and battery for striking his girlfriend and another woman with a wooden table leg during an argument. He was fired.
• OFFICERS CHRIS MARK AND RODNEY COOPER: Fired for allegedly violating department rules. But both were returned to the force through arbitration.
"I know the police department is a damn mess," Council President Johnnie Coleman said.
Fired by the department Monday were Officers Joseph T. Lechota, 29, of Flushing and Patrick M. Majestic, 36, of Swartz Creek. The two are accused of drug delivery, evidence tampering and misconduct in office and face pretrial hearings on the criminal charges this week in Flint District Court.
The pair are the latest in a series of Flint officers to resign or be fired for alleged misconduct over the past several years, although at least two of the fired officers regained their jobs through arbitration.
Some say police officers deal every day with the underbelly of society - and temptation."Police officers are virtually always bombarded throughout their career with big ethical issues," said Bruce Benson, a former deputy chief in Flint who now is a criminal justice associate professor at Michigan State University.
Still, Benson said his own research in Flint proves most officers have the best intentions. "The people in those jobs are there because they want to make a difference," he said.
Officers - current and former - bristle at the implication that the problems are anything but isolated incidents."It's tragic because I know these guys (in Flint). They are good officers, doing good work," said Brian Morley, an officer in Flint for four years and now a criminal defense attorney. "It's unfair. It's tough on the rest of them."
So, what makes a cop go bad?"I don't know. I wish I did," Benson said.
Every case is different, but a report to Congress in 1998 said profit, power and a sense of vigilante justice come into play in drug-related police corruption. Age and level of education also can be factors, it said.
Coleman said the recent arrests show how the department lacks leadership. He said he doesn't think Deputy Chief Gary Hagler is a bad leader, but said he lacks the organizational skills needed and hasn't been able to earn the respect of the entire department.
Hagler could not be reached for comment.
But Hagler released a statement saying Majestic is married to his niece.
"I want the public to know that I immediately removed myself from the internally initiated investigation," Hagler said in the release. "The federal authorities were immediately asked to participate in this investigation."
Coleman also said that while it shouldn't be an excuse for the officers' alleged crimes, the department is hurt by offering low wages and no raises in the past seven years. He said the city should give officers a raise before the issue goes into binding arbitration.
"I hope the city doesn't win," he said. "I hope the city has to pay the officers."